Phil Betts was born and raised on the north side of St. Louis. Now at 37, he has made a “conscious decision” to stay in the Midwest and enjoy the quality of life that his city provides. The youngest of four, Betts went to city schools and later to Kansas State University, where he majored in architecture. After college, he married and moved back into the home he was raised in to rear his growing family.
Erin Williams talked with Phil about his experience growing up as an African American male.
Here is an excerpt of their conversation:
On how he considers himself a minority: “The beautiful people that I grew up with in my block – most of those people do not have college degrees, and most of the men don’t have jobs that support families or have…their kids living with them. I have a mixed-race wife and we have mixed-race kids, and we’re raising our large family in North City on the block that I grew up in. Those things put me in a minority, at least on my block.
I think with that when you talk about the torch-bearing aspect of that, I guess other than raising my kids - me, setting an example for that. Happily walking them up the street, taking them to school every day. I want to raise that torch for that, and if I’m an example I want to be an example for that.
On growing up in North City: When my parents moved into my neighborhood, it was more of a racial mix than it is now. When I was growing up in the 80’s I remember that there were actually white folks on my block. There are still a couple left…but it was more of a mix. There were more people my age, and so I grew up with some kids in the neighborhood.
On attending Kansas State University, and living outside of the city for the first time: It was the deafening silence for me. Kansas was so quiet at night. I remember being in my dorm room and not hearing sirens. Not hearing cars, gunshots, things like that. It took an adjustment. That took getting used to, but that’s something that was easy to get used to, really!
On making a “conscious decision” to stay in Saint Louis: “We wanted to be in the city. We wanted our children to have that city upbringing in terms of knowing how to navigate urban areas. My wife is from Kansas. Her family were farmers. From her influence, from my influence, I think we’re going to have some interesting, well-rounded children, but we wanted them to be here in the city of St Louis.
I think what formed me was the St Louis Public Schools and getting those relationships. Being in close proximity of a lot of different people in terms of culture, background, socioeconomic backgrounds, I just think that being in the city, being in an urban area will afford you a lot more diversity [and] experience.
On why he loves his hometown so much: I think I got a great education here. I think that it helped mold me to be who I am, and I think I’m a pretty cool person. I think Saint Louis made me, and so if I can help make Saint Louis what I think it can be, I’m all about it.